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Sources: FBI questions Missouri lawmakers

Tuesday, March 31, 2009 | 7:13 p.m. CDT; updated 7:56 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, April 1, 2009

JEFFERSON CITY — The FBI is questioning Missouri lawmakers about alleged quid pro quo arrangements linking prestigious committee posts to campaign contributions, legislative sources told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Two lawmakers who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation said they specifically were asked about House Minority Leader Paul LeVota, a Democrat from Independence.

In an interview with the AP, LeVota said he has not been contacted by the FBI, denied any wrongdoing and suggested the accusations stem from a disgruntled political rival.

The Kansas City Star first reported Sunday, citing anonymous sources, that the FBI is investigating alleged pay-for-play scenarios at the Missouri Capitol.

Reports about the FBI investigation have created a buzz at the Capitol, where lawmakers have about six weeks left in the 2009 session.

House general counsel Don Lograsso, a former lawmaker himself, sent a memo dated Monday to all House members citing the reported FBI investigation and reminding lawmakers of their constitutional oath to not knowingly accept money — besides their state pay — for their official duties.

Bridget Patton, a spokeswoman for the FBI office in Kansas City whose jurisdiction includes Jefferson City, said Tuesday that she could neither confirm nor deny a public corruption investigation at the Missouri Capitol.

Missouri lawmakers apparently have spoken to the FBI for at least two separate probes.

Independent from the alleged quid pro quo investigation, two additional lawmakers told the AP on Tuesday that they had been in contact with FBI agents about an investigation into the funeral contract industry.

The FBI's St. Louis office confirmed last November to the AP that the agency had sent letters to funeral homes in multiple states following the financial collapse of National Prearranged Services Inc. and its affiliates. No charges have arisen from that yet.

The investigation into alleged political favors at the Capitol dates at least to 2008, when House Speaker Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, was in charge of the chamber. Jetton, who did not seek re-election last year because of term limits, said he had not been contacted by the FBI.

One lawmaker told the AP he had been contacted by the FBI multiple times in 2008 and 2009 with questions about pay-for-play scenarios in the Capitol, including whether House committee assignments were offered in exchange for lawmakers contributing money to campaign committees. The lawmaker said the FBI's questions focused on LeVota and others in legislative leadership positions.

Another lawmaker told the AP about an interview with the FBI that occurred several weeks ago in the Capitol. That lawmaker also said the FBI asked specifically about whether LeVota had made committee assignments contingent upon lawmakers contributing money to Democratic campaign committees.

"I never asked anyone to give an amount for a committee spot whatsoever," LeVota told the AP.

The lawmaker interviewed in the Capitol said the FBI also asked about an e-mail sent last year by LeVota on the letterhead of the Missouri House Democratic Campaign Committee, known as the HDCC.

The Sept. 22 letter, obtained by the AP, asks for donations of between $50 and $250 to help Democratic candidates. But instead of listing the address for HDCC, which helps all Democratic House candidates, the bottom of the letter directed donations to LeVota's personal campaign committee in Independence.

LeVota said his personal campaign address was listed because it was sent under his mass e-mail account.

"Hindsight tells me I should have took it off for that request," said LeVota, later adding: "It was my intent to try to raise money for the HDCC."

LeVota's campaign committee contributed $35,000 for the 2008 elections to the House Democratic Campaign Committee, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission.

Although he declined to specifically name the critic, LeVota said he believed the FBI's apparent questions were prompted by a fellow politician with a grudge against him.

"I haven't done anything wrong," LeVota said. He added: "This is just a political rival who's trying to throw me under the bus."

 


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